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Chapter IV - Reform and Progress

THE result of the election was the defeat of the government. Mr. Tilley lost his seat for St. John city, and the Hon. James Brown, the surveyor-general, was rejected by the county of Charlotte, so that two of the principal members of the executive were not in their places when the House was called together in July. The city of St. John, and the city and county of St. John, sent a solid phalanx of six members opposed to prohibition, and an Act repealing the prohibitory liquor law was passed by a vote of thirty-eight to two. The new government which was formed had for its principal members, the Hon. John H. Gray, who became attorney-general; the Hon. John C. Allen, solicitor-general; the Hon. R. D. Wilmot, provincial secretary; the Hon. John Montgomery, surveyor-general, and the Hon. Francis McPhelim, postmaster-general. The other members of the executive council were the Hon. Edward B. Chandler, the Hon. Robert L. Hazen and the Hon. Charles McPherson..

When the House met in July, the Hon. Charles Simonds, of St. John, was elected speaker, and it was soon discovered, after the liquor bill had been disposed of, that the majority supporting the government was so small as to make it impossible for them to accomplish any useful legislation. When the legislature again met, in the early part of 1857, it was seen that in a House of forty-one members twenty were arrayed against the government, and the only way in which government business could be done was by the casting vote of the speaker. This condition of affairs speedily became intolerable, because it practically made legislation impossible, but it was brought to an end by Mr. McMonagle, one of the members for the county of Kings, withdrawing his support from the government. Two courses only were now open to them, to tender their resignations or advise the dissolution of the legislature, and they chose the latter. The House of Assembly was dissolved by proclamation on April 1st, 1857, and the writs for the election were made returnable on May 16th.

The excitement attending this second election was, if possible, even greater than during the election of 1856, for the public mind had been wrought up to a high state of tension by the proceedings in the House and the numerous divisions in which the government was supported only by the casting vote of the speaker. The result of the election was so unfavourable to the Gray-Wilmot government that they at once tendered their resignations to the lieutenant-governor, agreeing to hold office only until their successors were appointed.

The most bitter contest of the election centred in the city of St. John, and it resulted in the election of Mr. Tilley, with Mr. James A. Harding for his colleague, the latter having changed his views in regard to the question at issue since the previous election, when he was chosen as an opponent of the government of which Tilley had been a member. When the Gray-Wilmot government resigned, the lieutenant-governor sent for Mr. Fisher, and entrusted to him the business of forming a new government. The government thus formed comprised the Hons. James Brown, S. L. Tilley, William Henry Steeves, John M. Johnson, Albert J. Smith, David Wark and Charles Watters. The Hon. Charles Fisher became attorney-general, and, resigning his seat, was re-elected for the county of York prior to the meeting of the legislature on June 24th, 1857. The session lasted only until July 1st, being merely held for the purpose of disposing of the necessary business. James A. Harding was elected speaker of the House, and the legislation was confined to the passage of the supply bills, and matters that were urgent. Tilley took no part in the legislation of this session, for his seat immediately became vacant by his appointment as provincial secretary. The other departments were filled by the appointment of Mr. Brown to the office of surveyor-general; of Mr. Charles Watters, to the office of solicitor-general, and of John M. Johnson as postmaster-general.

The legislature met again on February 10th, 1858, and the speech from the throne dealt mainly with the financial crisis, the Intercolonial Railway, and the progress that was being made in the construction of the line between St. John and Shediac as a part of what was termed the European and North American Railway. The speech also referred to the fact that the surplus civil list fund had been, by arrangement with the British government made the previous year, placed at the disposal of the House of Assembly. It was soon seen that the government was strong in the House, the first test vote being that taken on the passage of the address in reply to the speech from the throne. This came in the form of an amendment, regretting that the arrangement in regard to the surplus civil list fund had been acceded to without the consent of the House. This amendment to the address received the support of only six members. A return brought down at an early period in the session showed that the revenue of the province for the .fiscal year, ending October 31st, 1857, amounted to $668,252 an increase of $86,528 over the previous year. Of this sum upwards of $540,000 came from import duties and what were termed railway impost, which was simply duties levied on imports for the purpose of defraying the cost of the railways then building. The casual and territorial revenue yielded only eighteen thousand pounds but the export duties reached almost twenty thousand pounds.

The Intercolonial Railway still continued to engage the attention of the legislature, and correspondence with the secretary of state, with the government of Canada, and with the government of Nova Scotia, in regard to this great work, was laid before the House soon after the session opened. The government of New Brunswick consulted with the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia as to what assistance should be given by the imperial government towards the construction of the Intercolonial Railway from Halifax to Quebec, in the form of a guarantee of interest. The British government professed to feel a strong sense of the importance of the object, but thought they would not be justified in applying to parliament for the required guarantee, because the heavy expenditures to which Great Britain had been subjected did not leave them at liberty to pledge its revenue for the purpose of assisting in the construction of public works of this description, however desirable in themselves. The correspondence on the subject of the Intercolonial Railway extended over a period of more than twenty years and grew to enormous proportions, but it is safe to assert that this line of railway would not have been constructed in the nineteenth century but for the fact that it was undertaken by the Canadian Dominion as a work which had to be built for the purpose of carrying out the terms of confederation as set out in the British North America Act (section 145).

The railway to Shediac was finally completed and opened for traffic on August 5th, 1860, its length being one hundred and eight miles. The nineteen miles between Pointe du Chene and Moncton had been open as early as August, 1857, and the nine miles from St. John to Rothesay, on June 1st, 1858. The railway was opened from St. John to Hampton in June, 1859, and to Sussex in November of the same year. Although the people of the province had abated something of their enthusiasm for railways by the time the St. John and Shediac line was finished, still its opening was a great event, because it was the commencement of a new era in transportation and gave St. John access to the north shore, from which it had previously been practically shut out. Goods could now be sent by means of railway and steamer to Prince Edward Island, and to the New Brunswick ports on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and a community of interest which did not exist before was thus created between the most remote sections of the province.

The traffic receipts of the complete line were thought to be highly satisfactory; the business for the first three months amounted to about $45,000, and yielded a revenue of $18,000. This was a good showing and gave promise of still better things for the future. It may be interesting to state that in the last year that the railway was operated by the government of the province, the gross receipts amounted to $148,330, and the net receipts to $51,760. The gross and net revenue of the road had shown a steady increase from the first, and although it had been a costly public work the people of the province considered it a good investment. It was only after it had passed into the hands of the government of Canada, and become a part of the Intercolonial Railway, that any colour was given to the accusation that it was an unprofitable line. The railway from St. John to Shediac had always paid well, and probably, if dissociated from its connecting lines, would at this day pay three or four per cent, upon its original cost.

The legislation of the province between 1858 and 1861, although it included many useful measures, evolved nothing that calls for particular mention, with the exception of the law which provided for voting by ballot. This was an innovation to which many were opposed, but which the Liberal party very properly considered necessary to the protection of the voter, who was liable to be coerced by his employer, or by those who had financial relations with him. The ballot system introduced by the government was quite imperfect and did not insure absolute secrecy, because it did not provide for an official ballot such as is required in the system of election which now prevails in connection with the choice of members to our Canadian parliament. Yet it was a vast improvement on open voting, not only because it gave the voter a certain degree of protection, but also from the fact that it tended to promote order at elections, and to do away with that riotous spirit which was characteristic of the earlier contests in the province.

In 1859 an important step was taken, for the reorganization of King’s College, which by an Act passed in that year, was changed into the University of New Brunswick. There had always been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the college in consequence of its denominational character, and in 1854 an Act was passed empowering the lieutenant-governor to appoint a commission to inquire into the state of King’s College, its management and utility, with a view to improving it. The commissioners appointed were the Hon. John H. Gray, the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, J. W. Dawson, the Hon. John S. Saunders and the Hon. James Brown. The report, which was dated December 28th, 1854, was laid before both branches of the legislature in 1855. In 1857 the college council appointed a committee and prepared a draft of a bill which was laid before the legislature. This, with a few slight alterations, was the bill which was passed in 1859 for the establishment of the University of New Brunswick, and in this bill were embodied the principal recommendations of the commissioners appointed in 1854 to enquire into the state of the college. This Act transferred to the University of New Brunswick all the property of King’s College and its endowment, and made the university liable for the payment of the debts and the performance of the contracts of King’s College. It created a new governing body for the college to be styled the senate, to be appointed by the governor in council, and the president of the college was required to be a member of that body and also to be a layman. It conferred upon the senate the power of appointing the professors and other officers of the university, except the president, and also the power of removing them from office, subject to the approval of the governor in council. It also authorized the senate to fix their salaries. It abolished the professorship of theology and provided for the affiliation of other institutions with the university, and also for a number of free scholars. This Act, which was passed in April, 1859, was especially approved by Her Majesty in council on January 25th, 1860. Thus a new era in the higher education of New Brunswick was commenced, and a long step was taken towards making the college more acceptable to the people of that province. Great hopes were entertained at the time that this liberalizing of the constitution of the college would lead to a large increase in the number of its students, and a more general interest in its work, but, unfortunately, as the sequel showed, these hopes were only partially realized.

During the spring of 1860 circumstances occurred which led to the resignation of the post-master-general, the Hon. Charles Connell. The legislature having adopted the decimal system of currency in the place of the pounds, shillings and pence which had been the currency of the province since its foundation, Mr. Connell, in March, 1860, was authorized to obtain a new set of postage stamps of the denominations required for use in the postal service of the province. No person, at that time, thought that a political crisis would arise out of this order, but it appears that Mr. Connell, guided by the example of presidents and postmasters-general of the United States, had made up his mind that instead of the likeness of the queen, which had been upon all the old postage stamps of the province, the five-cent stamp, the one which would be most in use, should bear the impress of his own countenance. Accordingly the Connell postage stamp, which is now one of the rarest and most costly of all in the lists of collectors, was procured and was ready to be used, when Mr. Connell’s colleagues in the government discovered what was going on and took steps to prevent the new five-cent stamp from being issued. The correspondence on the subject, which will be found in the journals of 1861, is curious and interesting; it ended in the withdrawal of the objectionable stamps and in the resignation of Mr. Connell, who complained that he had lost the confidence of his colleagues, and in resigning, charged them with neglecting the affairs of the province. Only a few of the Connell stamps got into circulation, the remainder of the' issue being destroyed. Mr. Connell’s place as postmaster-general was filled by the appointment of James Steadman.

In the early part of 1861 a very important event occurred in connection with the government which produced a lasting effect on provincial politics. Charges were made by a St. John Conservative paper, The Colonial Empire, in which it was stated that members of the government and certain Crown lands officials had been purchasing the most desirable and valuable Crown lands of the province for speculative purposes, and that in bringing these lands to sale the government regulations had been violated and the public treasury had suffered. A committee of the House was appointed to investigate these charges, and inquiry established the fact that an official of the Crown lands department had purchased some eight hundred acres. These lands were all bought at public sale, but in the forms of application other names were used, which was a violation of the rules of the department. A portion of the press at the time created a widespread excitement upon this subject, and the services of the official referred to were dispensed with. Some of the supporters of the government also took such ground in reference to the attorney-general, Mr. Fisher, that his retirement from the government became necessary, the accusation against him being that he had negligently permitted some improper sales of Crown lands to be made. It was felt at the time by some that the penalty that was paid by the attorney-general was excessive for the offence; but, under the excitement then existing, it was the only course that could be taken to avoid the defeat of the government. At the general election that followed a few months later, Mr. Fisher was reelected for the county of York, and later on, after the excitement had passed over, the delinquent Crown lands official was reinstated. At the same election, that took place in 1861, the government was handsomely sustained, after one of the warmest contests that had ever taken place in New Brunswick. Probably the most effective nomination speech ever made by Tilley, during his long political career, was the one then delivered at the court-house, St. John, in his own defence, and in the vindication of his government against the charges made by the Opposition candidates and press.

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